Sunday, December 27, 2009

The unintended end-result of new airline security

Each time there is a new attempt at terror on an airliner, security is tightened yet again. Yet each time there is eventually another attempt. Does this mean that security will get tighter and tighter until each of us is traveling naked, blindfolded and chained to the seat for the duration of the flight - with no luggage at all? It is difficult to see how this will ever really come to an end. I have no suggestions for ultimate security, but although I believe that security is critical, I suspect that we need to completely re-think our approach to it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Build a better mousetrap and the world does not beat a path to your door

Inventors assume that all they have to do is invent. Yet most new products, however good, fail. In many cases it is because the creator has done an inadequate job of Marketing, Advertising and PR. Even though this is old history, we see that again and again, the would-be entrepreneur comes up short in these areas. It is perhaps the ultimate way in which we distinguish the successful ones from the failures.

Friday, December 11, 2009

It is all to easy to destroy faith in society

We establish an ideal, a set of rules by which to live a life. We tell young people about justice, fairness, and equity. They grow up to believe that your rewards are proportionate to your efforts. Then, as they grow older, we jerk the rug from under their feet. They see that the undeserving can be successful, and the good can fall by the wayside. They see the justice system, whether for a murderer or a traffic ticket, is unfair. Whether or not you get a traffic ticket is a matter of chance, it is often made difficult and expensive to fight one, and then if it is ever the police officer's word against even several civilians, the civilians lose - if the officer shows up in court! Given the number of death row exonerations, it is obvious that innocent people have been executed - and guilty ones gone free. If it is so difficult in murder cases, where more effort is expended, then the accuracy of less serious crime convictions is clearly even lower. So innocent people are in prison while guilty ones walk free. As this kind of awareness grows in young people, so does respect for the rules of society diminish - and far too little attention is paid to the consequences.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Breadth of experience is more valuable than depth of experience in business

All the evidence suggests that breadth of experience is more important in a new hire than depth of experience. Someone with depth of experience typically has much of their experience which is out of date. Also, they have usually not experienced different work environments and may have difficulty in adjusting. On the other hand, someone with breadth of experience has demonstrated flexibility and the ability to apply principles to many different situations.

However, most hiring managers value depth of experience more, as they believe that such a person will be able to step into a new job faster. While this could be true, it does not mean that they are performing better a year into the job, or even six months.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Watch out for bogus credentials

Someone I am coaching recently was interviewed by the CEO of a well known company. Looking up the profile of the CEO on LinkedIn, and the bio on the website, I saw that he had obtained a degree from a University that was new to me. I Googled it and it came up as a diploma mill that had been closed down for fraud fairly recently. We have seen CEOs a Radio Shack and Bausch & Lomb who were discovered to have claimed degrees they had not earned. I have several times interviewed people who were found to have falsified their credentials, yet clearly, people who do this can continue to prosper. Some people say that the falsification of academic credentials is growing as more degree granting institutions proliferate. However, let it me a warning to carry out due diligence before hiring anyone.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Internally driven businesses are everywhere

Over the past few months, for several reasons I have spoken with a number of businesses in technology, energy, and financial services which think that they know better than their customers what their customers want. It is fascinating to realize that the companies are each dedicated to serving their customers, but believe that because they are the expert, not the customer, they will decide what is good for them. I have seen this in many regulated businesses, where management and regulators each thinking that they should decide what the customer gets without listening to the customer. So the dissatisfaction is high and we wonder why.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The fear of software upgrades

The other day, as I was going through yet another software upgrade I realized that I was tense. On thinking about it, I realized that if all went well, I would have spent ten to fifteen minutes watching my computer whirr, and if all went well the software would work much as it did before. Perhaps it would have a few more features, but since I really did not know I needed them, the benefit would be marginal. On the other hand, there was a modest risk that it would not work, or interfere with other software, or require updating other elements. The times when the upgrade sticks in our memories are the times when it is a problem. So software upgrades are more dreaded than anticipated eagerly.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Golden age of everything is 11

We constantly hear about a "Golden Age." Yet so often the Golden Age to any of us is that which was prevalent when we discovered it at our own age of wonder - usually about 11.

Friday, November 06, 2009

"Micro-culture" is very important to how we behave and react

Most of the discussion of Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers," has focused on the role which chance plays in success and the fact that each of us seems to need 10,000 hours to become really proficient at anything, whether sports or music, computer programming or chess. Another interesting part of the book discusses the role culture plays in so much else. In cultures where there is a huge status difference between superior and subordinate, there is a tendency for more airline accidents, because the First Officer is less likely to question the Captain. As we might suspect the cultures with the least awareness of heirarch are countries such as Australia, New Zealand, The USA and South Africa, whereas Asian countries have the greatest hierarchical awareness. This will also apply to other areas such as business, government or education. Change will be more difficutl in a culture in which subordinates are reluctant to challenge authority or received wisdom.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Everyone is better than average

Over 90% of us think we are better drivers than average. Most people think they are better than average at pretty much everything they do. Not you of course, but other people, are mostly wrong.
This is a fundamental human weakness which holds us back. Because we think we are each better than average, we do not listen to others enough. We do not continue to learn once we have learned "enough." The only people who do not suffer from this are those who are in constant, objective, competition with others, such as athletes. But academics, politicians, businesspeople, doctors, and most of us do not have this comparison. So because we are over-confident, we make mistakes. Often, we do not even realize that we made a mistake. This is something to guard against, but is very difficult to do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Intuition is so often wrong and unintended consequences live

It has long been thought that in fighting obesity, if we put calories on menus, people would eat fewer. This is intuitively obvious. It is also wrong. Latest research in New York shows that by putting calories on, average calories consumed at lunch went from 425 to 468. The reason seems to be that consumers seem to take knowledge as permission to indulge. This is not an uncommon result when anyone bases a decision on intuition or logic it frequently produces an unintended consequence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We each communicate differently

I have noticed that some people check their personal emails as often as several times a day, while others let a week go by without checking it. The latter will check their snail mail more often than email. Some people would rather make a phone call than send an email, while others do most of their communicating by email or SMS. These different attitudes to communication go unsaid. So we can get frustrated when a friend or colleague does not respond in the way we expect or prefer. We ourselves are often not aware that our own styles may be different than others'. Understanding this is important as we are unlikely to change that of others.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Groups which lobby on your behalf without you knowing about it

Millions of Americans are members of the AAA, AARP, and other similar non-profit organizations. They join because they want to get the benefits they provide. Yet these groups lobby energetically in favor of what they see as their agenda - one which the members do not vote for, and may not even know about. The AARP has a position on everything relating to aging, The AAA lobbies against environmental control (as does the Chamber of Commerce). Yet most members do not participate in this. I have long wondered how this happens. Does this dilute democracy as much as corporate lobbying? Does this make the individual voter even less important?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The US is not doing a great job of looking ahead

Most of the problems and issues we face today are long-term. We cannot solve them in a month, or even a year. Whether it is alternative energy, health-care, or education, we have to look a generation ahead. When medieval people decided to built a cathedral they knew that they would not live to see it completed, yet they did not hesitate. Today, we have a very different attitude. We will waste years discussing something, but if a task will take years, we are loath to undertake it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Within three (3) weeks of arrival, present a detailed and comprehensive business plan for strategic growth including financial projections"

Now this is "onboarding" on steroids. At least they are honest, but if they really think anyone can prepare a full plan for a business which is new to them in three weeks, they clearly do not understand the issues. Incidentally, the company is a large healthcare provider.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Superb Implementation helps a 180 year old Fortune 50 company, P&G, thrive

Procter & Gamble is, by the standards of the Fortune 500, an old company. Yet it is a large and growing company. From time to time, the company seems to have lost its way strategically. However, a new leader, and that is another story, arrives to re-focus the company in the right direction. So how does the company make it through these aimless times? It is very clear that it is a consistent and remorseless emphasis on superb execution. No detail it too small. No avenue unexplored for options. The company does better with a bad or no strategy than any other in existence. The secret is no secret, yet it is more difficult for a competitor to copy than any strategy or technology ever devised.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Public Libraries are valuable to Job Seekers

Public Libraries around the US are improving their services to job seekers. Not only do they have amazing databases and publications - some available from home - but they also have seminars, networking meetings, and a few even have professional career coaches. All of this is available at no cost at all. While the New York Public Library is fantastic, so is Fresno, and Piscataway!

Librarians are eager to help. Many have skills they rarely use, and love to show off what they can find out. I know people who have received company and market profiles as well as introductions to local experts. Most people are not fully aware of the capabilities on offer.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

How not to turnaround a business

Many smart people and companies try to turn around a business, whether one they have owned a long time, or recently bought. I three biggest reasons for failure are: inadequate funding or resources; going against the heritage positioning; and failure to learn from the past, the one over-riding reason is hubris. Frequently, there is no recognition of difficulty or that anyone else can teach us anything. If a company does not suffer from this, then once an effective strategy is in place, the next failure is in execution, such as a tendency to cut corners, or to make people who have never done it before the responsible ones. It can be done, but is rarely done as well as it could be.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

There are no more jobs, only assignments!

Today jobs do not last a lifetime. Whether you are lucky enough to have a new job last ten years, or only a few months, you will be moving on. If a job carries the potential for growth and promotion, as well as mutual commitment, there are no more jobs only assignments. Much like in the Hollywood movie industry, professionals are engaged for an assignment. Over time, some are more trusted by particular people. Being well known and respected is critical as you will sooner or later be needing that reputation. Assume always that you will need to use your network and eperience to find a new one.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Will 1 in 5 US workers soon be unemployed?

The unemployment figures quoted are the narrowest definition, U3, which only includes those receiving unemployment benefits. A broader definition, U6, includes those who are discouraged and have given up, whose benefits have run out, or who can only find part-time work well below their capabilities. So, in June 2009, while U3 was "only" 9.5%, U6 was 16.5%, or one in 6 Americans. By the time U3 hits its peak, at perhaps 11-12%, U6 may well reach 205, or one in 5 Americans. This is a disaster not seen since the Great Depression (when it almost reached 30%), and number which will scar a generation.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I have learned about executives by coaching them

I have coached senior executives over many years. The vast majority are smart and hard working, yet few get to the top. I see three key issues which hold many of them back:
  1. The inability to see from other perspectives. Too many executives "lock in" on views and are unwilling or unable to see any other.
  2. Decisions based on emotion rather than fact. Very few executives are able to separate their emotions from the facts.
  3. Recognizing the "art of the possible," within the culture in which they work. Sometimes you get more done by pushing less, while other times you can achieve more by pushing hard.
I see CEOs who are no smarter or hard-working than people lower down in the organization, but those others do not know why they are not CEOs. It takes a third party perspective, if then to point out how to improve.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Why do people keep on putting really old photos of themselves in communications?

Whether it is in a bio, a realtors' business card, or an online profile, so many people put a photo which is ten years old. I know that it is impossible to keep totally up to date. Even when we have one taken fresh for the purpose, it gets old fast. However, I have seen many which are so old that I do not recognize the person when I meet them. This is totally counterproductive and really rather sad.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

We underestimate the difficulty

Perhaps if we did not underestimate the difficulty of a challenge we would take it on less often. For example, while intelligent people know that very few start-ups succeed, they really believe that theirs will succeed. When people have a sales call which seems to go well they tend to assume that it will result in revenue, whereas few do, and they tend to take longer than anticipated.

Friday, July 03, 2009

CEOs out of touch!

A couple of days ago I was watching a BBC roundtable of three CEOs, each of whom insisted that employer/employee dynamics had changed for the better. They claimed that employees no longer saw themselves as such, but as members of a team. Even though there have been layoffs and they have no voice in decisions, there is now a feeling that all are partners in a shared enterprise. Following a fairly lengthy discussion, the moderator asked each one how sure they were that the employees felt that way and how did they know. Each said he or she was sure and that was because they spent a lot of time telling them that they were team members. I suspect that the CEOs are completely out of touch with the employees, and are living in a bubble of their own.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shopper Marketing is only just beginning

Procter & Gamble calls it the "First Moment of Truth" - the moment at which the shopper is confronted with your product in the store. You may have worked hard at getting the product right, pricing it correctly, advertising it to everyone, but will he or she pick it up, and if so, will he or she buy it?

Increasingly, manufacturers and retailers are studying this moment. They are carrying out research to understand what happens. What are the shopper's thoughts? What are his or her actions? Over the next decade, this will become more and more important. New technology allows much more precise and accurate measurements to be taken.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Deep down, many companies have contempt for their customers

Many think of their customers as ignorant fools to be manipulated. This can work for a short while, but it always ends up failing. Yet, executives persist in this delusion. Hubris rarely pays off.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Choice is overrated

Is choice really a consumer demand? It often over-whelms consumers, and it usually results in higher prices. Club stores and deep discounters offer little choice, yet they are the chains which are growing. Traditionally, business has thought that the consume is making a trade-off, but many consumers enjoy shopping at stores like Trader Joe or Costco. Consumers often say they want choice, but act as though it confuses them. Actually, we know that too many choices do confuse consumers and it is often deliberately used by business to get consumers to pay more than they need to.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No can think outside the box on healthcare

I find the debate on reimbursement fascinating in that it assumes essentially the same system as the US has now. That is a fee for service system which is what resulted in the expensive and inefficient system we have now. For example, I do not see any mention of capitation fees, in which primary care doctors are paid a fee based on the number of patients who sign up with them. The fee is to keep them healthy as well as co-ordinate care provided by specialists. People tend to do what is in their personal economic best interest, and the corollary is that when a large group of people behave in the same way it means that the system rewards this behavior. I do not see any interest outside a small group of experts in taking a look at what does and does not work elsewhere, and no real knowledge so that reinventing the wheel has become a requirement.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The US Healthcare system is like the US Automobile industry

People spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not there should be a single payer system or not - whether a public option is a requirement or treasonous. Yet, at a far more fundamental level, the US healthcare system is increasingly failing. The system is Balkanized, with each constituency only out for itself. The parts of the system do not work together to serve the consumer. If they made a movie about the fall of the US automotive industry, the UAW could be played by the AMA, GM Management by the insurance companies, dealers by hospitals, and parts suppliers by drug companies. The consumer would play the consumer.

Medical records are routinely lost. More money is spent denying claims and turning down health insurance applicants than providing care for many. Patients are routinely given drugs or treatments which have harmful or dangerous effects on each other. Many patients will see over ten specialists but no one has an overview of the process - doctors are incented to refer rather than to treat. There is substantial evidence that because of this, and the propensity to order unnecessary tests, the more that is spent per patient, the worse the outcome. The system rewards inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Unless something is done, it will only get worse.

The wosh for universal healthcare has existed since Teddy Roosevelt. Harry Truman ran up against the rocks trying to make it happen. Saddest of all is that no one has even been able to get efficiency and effectiveness within the existing system.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Marketing is easy in principle, difficult in practice

My friend Jonathan will be comforted to know that Marketing is quite simple in principle. However, it is tougher in practice. I have come to the conclusion that good marketing runs counter to human instinct. We want to have our preconceptions confirmed by being able to sell what we think customers should want rather than finding out what they want first. The steps of good marketing are simple, but demand objectivity.
  1. Work out what is the target market.
  2. Find out what it wants, what it will pay, and where it wants to buy.
  3. Design and make the product or service and ensure that it can be done for a price which maximizes demand (not always cheap in the case of luxury goods).
  4. Ensure that it is available to the target market.
  5. Tell people about it.
As the saying goes,"nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising." If the product does not live up to expectations, there will be no repeat purchase and buyers will tell prospective buyers about it (even faster today with review sites, blogs and other feedback mechanisms).

Yet so often, we see companies decide that what they can make should be sold to customers and then blame the sales force or marketing department for its failure. Most senior executives these days learn the right way of marketing as much as they learn to read a P&L, yet they are regularly overwhelmed by personal hubris. Many failed products were quite predictable, but became investments in management prestige - a violation of Marketing principles!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Why do companies often start with a bad business mocel? Because it is easy!

I have seen, inherited and continue to see companies knowingly or not, start off with a business model they will regret. Whether it is distributorships which will be ineffective and expensive to change, as GM has discovered, or prime sources of revenue which are the least profitable, as Nielsen and IRI know, it happens again and again. I see it regularly. So why?

Usually, the inferior business model is easy, cheap and fast to enter. Distributors seem to offer immediate market entry at no cost. Some customers are quick to buy than those from other sectors, but will never pay much, and by making them customers, it hurts future profit. Limited distribution seems to restrict sales potential, though it often helps profitability. Companies often start by selling data, thinking that they can add value later, though they never can. Cutting quality or service may seem like a good idea to make a sale, but you can never afford to add it back.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Sales and Marketing are very different

All too often "Sales" and "Marketing" are paired even so that one person has a "Sales & Marketing" title. This often makes as much sense as pairing Finance and R&D. Peter Drucker, whom many claimed to admire, but also most ignored pointed out that Sales and Marketing were more likely to be natural adversaries than allies. After all, as he said, if Marketing were to do a perfect job, then there would be no need for sales. Yet, even though few people are good at both, the role continues to be confused to the harm of the company.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Why do companies fail? GM; Citibank; Enron?

Let's face it, as the Greeks said: "those whom the gods want humbled, they first give 40 years of prosperity!" Many companies which look successful on the outside are hollow shells. GM had the seeds of failure within it 30 years ago. Citibank, which would also be in Chapter 11 were it not for a government bailout was in the same situation. Yet a few companies, such as Apple Computer or P&G have revitalized themselves. As Jim Collins in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall, lays out five stages of failure:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

In retrospect, each is capable of being reversed, yet this rarely happens. Even when warnings are loud and clear, they are rarely listened to.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are CEOs dull and boring or charismatic and visionary?

In today's New York Times David Brooks quotes research to show that the most successful CEOs are not visionaries, but dull, detail-oriented and process-driven. Yet in today's Wall Street Journal, Gary Hamel perpetuates the idea that successful CEOs are charismatic visionaries.

In my experience the CEOs who are most charismatic tend to become insulated from the world and long term David Brooks is more right than Gary Hamel. Perhaps we would each like to believe that CEOs are all "big thinkers," but we may be fooling ourselves.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Has KFC lost its mind?

So KFC puts out a coupon for a free meal - on Oprah even. Then it changes its mind. Of yes, you can drive to a KFC, hand in the coupon and they will mail you another one. Clearly misredemption has been a problem, but they ask you to spend time and money on gas to effectively trade in the original coupon for a new one. Frankly, it seems to be a poorly thought out promotion in the first place, and en even more harmful solution. I would have expected better from KFC.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Making Introductions Effective

Whether in doing business, making friends, or finding a job, introductions are the lifeblood of social commerce. Some people take short-cuts so much that they are virtually ineffective, or even harmful. Some of the key guidelines for making introductions are:
  • Understand each person well enough to determine who they would most benefit from meeting. Don't expect them to tell you - they don't know whom you know.
  • Make the introductions "win-win." Try to make sure that each can get something from it.
  • Make "warm" introductions. Do not simply ask one party to contact a second using your name, but introduce them - whether in person, on the phone, or by email. You only win if the introduction is successful.
  • If using LinkedIn, use the phone as well to determine what is the best way to introduce - some people respond better to phone than email, or email better than to LinkedIn.
  • Follow up. Was the introduction successful? Was one party difficult, rude or simply unresponsive?

Friday, May 01, 2009

JobSerf Index shows jobs posted in March down 65.2% since year ago

The job search service, JobSerf, has been tracking online postings monthly since January 2008. The index started to fall early last year, a fall which accelerated in July. The fall continues, but early indications are that April could be the first month in a while which shows any improvement. While only about 10% of executive jobs are filled through online postings, this is an indicator. It means that since more people have been chasing fewer jobs, it has been much more difficult to get hired. If this changes, both job-seekers and employers need to be ready.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recruiters become career coaches

As the demand for headhunters has dropped precipitously, many have no work. However, the supply of job hunters has climbed as fast. So many recruiters are now focusing on job search advice for a fee. It seems that the ratecard price is around 250-500 per hour. However, most spend a lot of time giving out free advice as part of their business development efforts.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

People who will not learn

I speak at many conferences. I see a real difference between the attitudes I encounter. The psychographics of each conference are different. All too often I see people who are convinced that they have nothing to learn from anyone else. They will ask for introductions, but never for other help. I see that these people succeed at a far lower rate, but they rarely change. I suspect that most people acquire this attitude at a very early age and rarely change.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Vocational Training vs. Education

There has always been conflict between those who favor vocational training and those who favor broader education. The old apprenticeship focused on vocational training. The apprentice learned how to do a job. While it may not have mattered hundreds of years ago when technology changed slowly, it matters more now when information and skills become obsolete. So it may be more important to "learn how to learn" - a purpose of education. Quite a few years ago, when I was studying Engineering, we calculated that we needed to spend 20% of our time keeping up to date, based on the half-life of knowledge at the time. Most people who go only through vocational training do not realize that so much time has to be spent on continuous learning. As a result. I do favor general education over vocational training. Give me an applied scientist over a technologist any day!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Old Age is no fun for most

Many of us have an idealized concept of old age. Yet many older people will be alone, bored, in pain, and will die with little dignity. This is partly a function of money, but more importantly it is the result of a society which tries to ignore the existence of old people. The need for assisted living and homes for the aged is an accommodation to the fact that the family does not take on that role. Sadly, many older people could lead productive and interesting lives if attention were to be paid to the issue.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Marketers have no credibility because they play too much

The gravitation of marketers to online social media without equal focus on measurement leads to a perception of them as not serious business people. Too little emphasis is devoted to prediction and tracking of the effects of social media marketing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Isn't Wall Street about greed?

"A culture of excessive greed!" That is what President Obama said about Wall Street. While I agree that it is greedy, is that not what makes Wall Street what it is? Accusing Wall Street of excessive greed is like accusing the Pope or Dalai Lama of excessive piety.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Expect wild overreaction, posturing and unintended consequences, from politicians

While the USA and rest of the world goes through a crisis, we are seeing politicians use it to advance their careers. Many will vie with each other to show over-the-top rage, they will advance bills which will have the opposite effect to that which is claimed. The fact is that in any crisis, some people, or groups, will win or lose unfairly. No set of rules and regulations can be so finely nuanced as to create a fair and equitable world. We need to accept this and move on. So let's simply ignore much of what the politicians say.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Irrelevance of the "war for talent"

Over the past ten years we have heard much of the "war for talent." Yet now, in today's economy, new graduates from top schools and seasoned managers with 30 years of valuable experience struggle equally for any job at all. Perhaps this cycle is inevitable, but whenever the press and "experts" bemoan or proclaim something, it does not seem to last long.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The irony of it - Yahoo messes up!

In 1992 I finally migrated from my numeric CompuServe email address, which I had used since 1983, to an AOL one - convenient and with good parental controls as my son hit 7. While I have been steadily frustrated by it, all my friends knew it so I stayed with it since then. Finally, I decided a few weeks ago that I would migrate to a Yahoo hosted custom email address. After a brief period of time, last Sunday, Yahoo started to bounce back all incoming emails with a "this email address has been suspended message." I immediately reported it, with Yahoo promising a response in 12-24 hours. 26 hours later, on Monday, I received an email asking for the bounced message header. I sent this and have been waiting since then for the "all clear."

In the meanwhile I have gone back to AOl and had to explain to everyone that my "change of address" was premature. Since I have problems with Hotmail, and am unwilling to use a cable company's since I have moved a number of times in the past few years, I have learned that no email provider is really satisactory. Though perhaps a greater lesson is that life does not end with a failed email system!

Is unemployment now approaching 15%?

The 8.1% unemployment rate is deceptive. That is the U-3.

If one wishes to compare unemployment now to unemployment in the 1930s, the closest analagous data is the U-6. The U-6 includes the unemployed, the discouraged workers and the under-employed workers (those who want full -time but can only get part-time due to economic reasons.)

In the 1930s, data was not kept as it is now. The estimates of unemployment during the 1930s came from applications for relief (both to public agencies and private organizations) and later included the applications to work for the WPA and CCC. There were no distinctions made between 'unemployed', 'discouraged' or 'under-employed.' Anyone who did not have enough full-time work no matter for how long, no matter whether they had applied for a job or not within 4 weeks and no matter if they picked up a few hours of work here or there was considered 'unemployed.'

The U-6 is now 14.8. That means out of every 20 workers approximately 3 are unemployed or have given up or have had their hours cut. And the number is growing and growing and growing......

The U-6 does not include all those whose hours have stayed the same but whose wages have been cut; or whose health insurance has been cut; or whose 401ks have been cut.

700 people have applied for 1 janitorial job in Ohio. The photos of job fairs, if viewed in black and white, could have been taken 76 years ago.

Still, the U-6 at 14.8% is the closest to the 1930s data. And by way of comparison it is either 1930 -31 (unemployment 1930 was 8.9% and in 1931 15.9%) or 1936 - 37 (unemployment in 1936 was 16.9 and in 1937 14.3.)
- from a letter to the New York Times

Saturday, March 07, 2009

17th US bank nationalized this year - yesterday

There is such a lot of noise about whether or not banks in trouble should be nationalized. Yet it happens every day. Any bank which is truly on the brink of failure, in the normal course of events is taken over by the Federal Government so that depositors can be repaid. It occasions no outcry - in fact only approval. So it is clearly not nationalization itself which is the issue, but the size of the bank alone.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Job Boards in trouble? How to deal with it

With far fewer job vacancies, the job boards are suffering. Even though the number of seekers is up, most boards make their money from postings. There is evidence that many of the jobs on the boards are not real, but there to keep the appearance of numbers up. It is possible that some of the boards may close during the course of the year. However, job-seekers must remember that very few jobs are filled online, but most are filled through networking. So I expect to see a huge increase in networking.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

3 times the number of people chasing 1/3 the numbr of jobs

There are a number of clear issues which impact job hunting. What is not immediately obvious is that there is a multiplier effect. When companies lay people off and have hiring freezes, there are more people looking for fewer jobs. This is a situation which seems to be creating a downwards spiral in the job market.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

If government in the US wants to grow mass transit, why does it create difficulties?

In the parts of the USA which have decent rail service ridership has been declining. Yet, in many parts of the North-East there is a several year waiting list for parking spaces. The system grew in the "Mad Men" days when families owned one car and the wife dropped the husband off at the train station. Now, each spouse has a job and a car, so parking at the train station is essential. Many want to ride the train, but there are few multi-story structures, which would also make travel easier in bad weather. So all those on the waiting list for parking permits are forced to drive to work even though they would rather take the train.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Paying for content

People have become used to getting news and commentary free. Commercial TV, and now the Internet has allowed us to get most of what we want for nothing. Yet, there is a cost to gathering and editing the news. While a few publications, such as the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times have managed to get payment for access, this is rare. NPR manages through donations, but only a few its listeners actually contribute. The idea of micr-donations may catch on. With the ability to donate pennies simply and cost-effectively, services such as Kachingle may catch on. If we want to continue to get real news, as opposed to self-serving commentary, it may have to.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Inefficiency in organizations is growing

I do not believe that inefficiency is the property of government alone, but an example I recently encountered illustrates how it happens. A friend had his car towed while illegally parked. Ok, so an expensive inconvenience in most cases, but far worse in this.It turned out that the car was registered in his late father's name. Since the will had not cleared probate, title could not be transferred. Since the title was not in his name, the car remained in police custody while storage fees mounted. He could not get the car because inflexibility in the system would not allow it. All involved told him that the car was clearly his and he was caught in an unusual situation, but no one could help.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Saving your way to growth

While it is reasonable to cut costs when profitability is down along with growth, I see companies which are profitable, but where growth has slowed, cutting costs. This would seem to virtually ensure continued slowing of growth, yet they keep doing it. It seems to speak to a sense of panic among corporate executives.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

If you want to be viewed favorably by history be on the side of change.

Looking back, reactionaries are often despised or laughed it. Whereas those who support or fight for the more liberal changes are regarded as heroes. Where are those who fought for Prohibition, vs.those who fought for wider suffrage? Where are those who fought for internment of Japanese-Americans without trial, or supported the Palmer raids? Yet those who fought for peace, liberties, education are regarded positively.

Even if we disregard any value judgment, it implies that if you want to be remembered favorably, be progressive and support change.

Do the "haves" yet understand recession?

The USA, and the world, is in a recession. Yet, I wonder if many of the leaders really understand that. In the town of Weston, CT, the proposed new education budget is up 2.62% while the expected state contribution will be down 15%! Since even in affluent towns residents are losing jobs and income, how realistic is that. This is happening in the neighboring towns too.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The value of FENG and other networking group

This evening, I went to a meeting in CT of the Financial Networking Group. About 50 people attended this chapter meeting. The attendees were all senior financial executives. The first part of the meeting was devoted to each person delivering a 90 second "elevator speech" about themselves. While this is essential to anyone in a job search, it is critical for anyone who ever needs to tell a stranger about themselves in a short and interesting way. As is normal at any meeting, many of them were weak and unclear. However, coaching was provided by the organizers of the meeting so that members can get better and better. There was a genuine recognition that the group as a whole would get stronger if each person helps another.

There was a short presentation by George Bradt, founder of PrimeGenesis, and leading expert about "onboarding" - the process of successfully starting up in a new job. The Obama Presidency was seen as a good role model because of the extensive preparation prior to the inauguration. Given the shorter and shorter time jobs last, this is an essential component of any executive's skill-set, and George did an excellent job of explaining it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Can the incidence of tax fraud be as high in general as it is among political appointees?

From Timothy Geithner to Tom Daschle, and now Nancy Killefer, the incidence of tax fraud seems unusually high. I would not dream of hiding income, yet, it seems to be common. Is this the American way, and I just missed the memo? Sadly, I believe that most Americans report their income honestly and see payment of taxes as civic duty. When among those who do not are those who seek to lead the nation, I am disappointed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Punishment of Employees

Wandering around the other day, in the Post Office, in stores, going to the bank, I was struck by how few people were given stools. In Europe, even store clerks get stools. I guess the theory in the US is that if you put your employees into pain and discomfort in their customer-facing jobs, they will be more effective - more cheerful, helpful. Perhaps the assumption is that employees deserve punishment for being employees, or perhaps that they are masochists who will work harder if they are being whipped. While totally contrary to all the motivation theory so eagerly adopted by business, it continues.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Wells Fargo Bank being casual with accuracy

Wachovia Bank has been bought by Wells Fargo and the airwaves are full of commercials saying that Wachovia is Wells Fargo. However, if a Wells Fargo customer goes into a Wachovia branch, he or she will no more be able to make a transaction than a Citibank or HSBC customer. This is a casualness with accuracy which we should not expect from a bank or any major corporation. Just saying "is" does not make it so!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Can President Obame be so perfect?

The entire world continues to be in awe of Barack Obama. If we look back on past Presidents - even great ones - they all had one or more personal flaws. Yet President Obama does not seem to. Is it really possible? I am idealistic enough to believe that it may be. Not that he will not make mistakes, but that he will be honest, faithful, and fair. Difficult as it is to believe that anyone can climb through the ladder of politics without being corrupted, perhaps the smooth and fast climb protected him from having to make too many compromises. This is one issue about which I do remain optimistic - we need to be, the USA and the world, needs a strong, considerate, and effective President.

Chrysler and Fiat? I'm skeptical

We have seen this before. The theory is that you take two struggling behemoths, poorly managed, combine them and go on to glory! In practice, usually, the combination fails. That was the theory behind the merger of British Motor Corporation and Leyland Motors (which was actually doing OK), with the result of one far larger, failing, company. I think it is a rather naive belief, or perhaps just desperate, on the part of the owners. While it is possible that the combination will succeed, there is no evidence that the existing management can make it happen.

Friday, January 16, 2009

so how is CT different from CA?

For a start, it's colder - a lot more snow. It is also clearly a part of the New York business community, which means it is more in the center of things. It is easier to get to places and people. However, it is clearly still America - a fact that Americans take for granted as the 44th President takes his oath of office on the 20th, but a huge advantage for US business vs. most other countries in the world. Having a large, essentially homogeneous, market, provides great strength to the economy, and opportunity to its citizens.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

What are the real implications of the 2009 MENG Trends survey?

The Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) has just released the latest Trends Survey:

While I encourage you to look at the results, the interesting points are the implications. Over time I have seen many trends surveys and it is always instructive to look back on them. The emphasis on innovation is no surprise. We all have learned that in times of recession, the companies which are best positioned when it is over are those that continued to spend heavily on innovation and advertising. Yet, we all know that most companies will cut back as short-term needs win out.

The drop in emphasis of "green" and environmental issues is also not surprising. Business people react to consumers, and they have become bored for now. Web 2.0 has become less interesting because it is theoretical to many people, who do not know what to do about it. Many large companies are spending money and effort on this without getting real benefits. Thus, disillusionment is setting in.

No understanding of retro-reflective materials in the USA

The "cat's eye," originating in the UK in 1933, consists of two pairs of reflective glass spheres set into a white rubber dome, mounted in a cast iron housing. This is used to mark lane dividers on roads. The rubber housing has a fixed rubber wiper which cleans the glass each time someone drives over the dome, which sinks slightly into the road. In the US, Bott's Dots, used since 1966, do not have most of these features. Furthermore, in Western Europe colored glass (red normally, green for exits) are used on nearside lanes so that drivers do not go off the road, or exit in appropriate places. The US never seems to have understood the value of Cat's eyes. Furthermore, about 20 years ago, I worked with 3M, an American company, and the world's largest manufacturer of retro-reflective materials, such as ScotchBrite, or retroreflective paints. These are commonly used on road signs in Western Europe to make them visible at great distances at night. Research has proved that at night, even someone wearing white clothing is virtually invisible until the last moment to a car driver with headlights on, but the use of retroreflective clothing saves lives. Yet, this is rare in the US. Our research showed that this is linked to a perverse machismo. It is regarded as weak or cowardly to use such materials. Driving long distances at night it is obvious that use of retro-reflective materials would save lives and save money in the long run, yet it does not happen.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Shades of 40 years ago - the real America

Forty years ago I spent three months traveling across America on Greyhound buses. I met some of the nicest people I have ever met. Few could encapsulate the "idea of America" in a few short sentences, but they epitomized it. Of course, the enforced intimacy of sitting next to stranger for hours helps to get to know people, but I am finding the same this time as I drive across America.

Back then, I stayed largely with friends of friends, and saw yet another side of Americans - hospitality. That is still there, though there is more suspicion of strangers.

Exploring America at ground level

No Veggies in the USA?

Do Americans really not eat Vegetables? Having been driving for three days now and finding it almost impossible to find anything to eat with vegetables, I finally found a Chinese restaurant for lunch. It seems that whether you visit Wendy's, BK, Chilis, Subway, or Red Robin, if you want any real vegetables (Iceberg lettuce does not count), you are out of luck. The implication is that we are mostly malnourished, even though we eat staggering quantities. Since we should be eating 5-8 servings of high-fiber/nutrition vegetables a day, most of us are going to be in trouble when we are older.